Kerslake steps down as civil service head

Sir Bob Kerslake (pictured) is stepping down from his role as head of the civil service in the autumn, and is to retire as permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) at the end of February 2015, it has been announced today.

By Winnie.Agbonlahor

15 Jul 2014

The announcement came alongside a number of ministerial reshuffles, and the creation of a revamped structure at the centre of government. Number 10 said today that cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood is to become head of the civil service, but without taking additional responsibilities for civil service reform. Instead, he’ll manage the person appointed to a new role described by Number 10 as “a chief executive post at the centre of government.”

This chief executive will lead civil service reform, and also take the post of permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office. The current permanent secretary, Richard Heaton, will keep the job until the chief executive is in post, after which he’ll retain his role as first parliamentary counsel.

A selection panel, chaired by first civil service commissioner Sir David Normington, will begin the process to recruit the chief executive shortly, Number 10 said.

Kerslake said: “It has been an honour to serve as head of the civil service over the last two and a half years. I am enormously proud of all that has been achieved during my time as head of the civil service and permanent secretary at DCLG. Civil service reform is now becoming a reality; we are becoming more efficient, delivering more public services digitally, improving skills across the civil service and opening up the way we work.

“DCLG has delivered strongly on the government’s priorities whilst at the same time itself undergoing major change. I have enjoyed a good and productive partnership with Jeremy Heywood as cabinet secretary and it has been a privilege to work with the 400,000 civil servants across the country who work tirelessly to serve the public and ministers.”

Kerslake has been a public servant for more than 35 years, joining government as the head of the Homes & Communities Agency after a long stint as chief executive of Sheffield City Council. He has led DCLG since November 2010 and the civil service since January 2012.

Number 10’s announcement comes following a morning of confusion on Whitehall, after unnamed government sources told BBC’s Newsnight last night that Kerslake was to be removed alongside ministers ousted in the reshuffle. The programme suggested that it was Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude who had levered Kerslake out of the job.

At 9.15am this morning, CSW has learned, Kerslake told an audience at Civil Service Live that he is stepping down; the government confirmed the move three hours later. Civil servants who attended the session report that Kerslake took the opportunity to speak out against anonymous briefings against civil servants, saying that they damaged both ministers and officials.

Prime minister David Cameron said: “I would like to put on record my sincere thanks to Bob Kerslake for his long and distinguished public service.

“As permanent secretary of DCLG he has supported a far-reaching programme of local decentralisation and planning reform.

“And as head of the civil service he has put in place a number of important reforms and building blocks that will help over time to transform the effectiveness of our civil service. Performance, efficiency and capability have all improved on his watch and he can look back on his record of achievement with great satisfaction.”

DPM Nick Clegg also paid tribute to Kerslake’s achievements in Sheffield and in government, noting that he’s “been a dedicated public servant and can look back on a proud record of achievements.”

The press release did not include a comment from Francis Maude, Kerslake’s boss at the Cabinet Office.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said: “The civil service will face a greater challenge over the next Parliament than it has since 2010, with further cuts in resources that will match - if not exceed - those delivered already.

“What the civil service needs is stable and unified leadership to face up to those challenges, both in terms of its internal structure at the top and critically, between officials and ministers.

“The speculation around Sir Bob's position - and the off-the-record briefings that have accompanied it - will have done little to reassure civil servants of politicians’ and ministers’ understanding of the qualities of leadership, which MPs themselves are often so quick to accuse public servants of lacking.

“Squaring the circle of centrally-driven reform in a delegated departmental structure, and matching the ever-increasing demands with ever-reducing resources, whilst also maintaining and improving the quality services the public expects, is not a challenge for the faint hearted. If the new role of chief executive is to succeed and genuinely deliver the pace of reform that the government says it wants, then it will need the support of ministers in departments as well as at the Cabinet Office.”

And Peter Riddell, director of the Institute for Government, added: “To recruit an effective leader, the prime minister must ensure that this post has real power - for example, running the appraisals for permanent secretaries, recruiting and promoting top civil servants, oversight of those running the professions and those leading functional teams. Such a role will require the post-holder to have a team of their own if they are to drive through reforms in the civil service successfully."

Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, said: “Sir Bob’s career of selfless public service is crowned by his period as Head of the Civil Service.  PASC warned that splitting the roles was unlikely to be a durable arrangement, and Sir Bob has had to face some exceptional challenges.  The backstairs briefings against him were totally unacceptable.  He has maintained a reputation for integrity and professionalism throughout.”

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